Professor of Biology, former physician and ordained minister, brings joy and ministry to the hearts of children.
by Kelly Hinseth
A series of double-takes from the room full of students is the reaction toward the professor who has just walked in. Dr. Gary Mumaugh makes his way to the front of the class, dressed head-to-toe in an outfit consisting of mainly red and green. He sets his things on the desk, looks up at students’ eyes glued to him and says, “Welcome to anatomy and physiology. This class is going to be so hard… you’re going to need Santa to pass.”
He is known as Dr. Mumaugh to his biology students, but to the thousands upon thousands of children he has come in contact with, he is Santa Claus.
“It actually stands for Scott Calvin,” Mumaugh said with a chuckle referring to the gold stitched lettering on his green velvet vest. Underneath the vest, Mumaugh sits comfortably in a light green shirt adorned with an assortment of colorful stockings, his head is topped with a green and red hat with a sparkly gold tassel dangling from the very tip of it, and gold round-rimmed glasses sitting at the tip of his nose. This is Mumaugh’s typical work-attire 365 days a year. He is a year-round Santa Claus.
Mumaugh’s story as Santa Claus began five years ago when he was approached by a friend of his who told him to put his long beard to good use. Mumaugh was more than skeptical of the idea at first. “I thought it was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard in my life,” he said. “I did not want to be the fat, old guy talking to kids as Santa Claus.”
Mumaugh began as a volunteer Santa. He started out by going to different children’s hospitals and spending time with military families. He then set out to become a professional Santa Claus; claiming to have earned his Bachelor Degree of SantaClausology from the International University of Santa Claus also known as the “School 4 Santas.”
That’s when the corporations began calling. Mumaugh was once again skeptical, not wanting to abandon his work as a volunteer Santa. “I didn’t want to do it for the profit, I wanted to do it for the ministry,” he said. The job paid extremely well, but Mumaugh’s focus was not on the paycheck, he thought it would be the perfect opportunity to reach more kids.
Last year, Mumaugh worked as Santa at Eden Prairie shopping center, where he saw over 27,000 children in the span of six weeks leading up to Christmas. The requests of those children were all quite similar; iPods, iPads, gadgets that Mumaugh did not even possess. But every now and then, Mumaugh will have a child climb into his lap, lean in and whisper something in his ear that will bring him to tears. Those requests have included bringing back loved ones- like daddy who never came back from Afghanistan. Stunned and heartbroken by the cries of these children’s hearts, he takes them in his arms and lets them cry in the arms of Santa Claus. And then he will pray with them.
As the long line continues to grow in front of them, Mumaugh realizes: this is his ministry; one unlike any other. “No pastor could ever pull that off,” Mumaugh said. He realized that he had to be inside of the corporate world to do something like this.
After receiving heartbreaking requests from some of these children, Mumaugh will find the parents and give him his contact information. “I tell them after I travel all around the world in one night and have a chance to rest; let’s talk,” Mumaugh said.
After the holiday season concludes, he spends the months of January and February doing grief counseling with those who have lost a loved one.
“I would never be able to do this in the confines of the church,” Mumaugh said.
Beyond the malls and shopping centers, Mumaugh also spends time with military families and in hospitals. As a former hospital chaplain, he has been a witness to a large number of tragedy-stricken families throughout his career. “I used to ask God why he would put me in the front-row seat to all this tragedy?” Mumaugh said. He then realized that he was called to this — to be a witness while these families are going through the worst time of their lives. “God was saying that he wanted me to be the shepherd that walks them through this hard time,” Mumaugh said. It wasn’t ever what the family was expecting; for Mumaugh, he felt like he was redefining ministry.
The Santa Claus character is year-round for Mumaugh. The beard is always there and the hair is always white. His hair is actually naturally brown, forcing him to bleach it back to its snowy white color every six weeks. “365 days a year, I am bringing the magic of Christmas to everybody who is two to 102,” Mumaugh said.
Being Santa Claus 365 days a year is sometimes strange for Mumaugh. He will walk into a restaurant and run into a woman who is 85 years old and see the twinkle ignite in her eyes. That’s when he will be reminded of why he does this. “I just brought her back to a cherished memory that is 80 years old,” Mumaugh said.
“My wife is sick of all these women making goo-goo eyes at me,” Mumaugh said with a laugh. His wife is actually one of Mumaugh’s biggest supporters, she even creates every single one of Santa’s outfits by hand. “My wife looks forward to the days where I can be incognito and not wear red,” Mumaugh said.
In the world of Santa Claus characters, Mumaugh is considered to be one of the elite. “You are either very high-end and elite in the Santa community or you look like Duck Dynasty bikers. And there is no in-between,” Mumaugh said. The elite Santa Claus doesn’t do anything short of excellence when it comes to his craft.
One of Dr. Mumaugh’s biggest dreams while he was in practice was to own an Armani suit. “That would mean that I have arrived as a physician,” Mumaugh said. He was never able to quite afford a suit made by the designer. However, he now owns several Santa suits that cost four times what the designer suit would cost.
Another big dream that is common in the world of professional Santas is starring in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; to them that is the ultimate engagement. For Mumaugh, that isn’t his big Santa dream. “My dream is to visit local church having a pageant on Christmas Eve at midnight; and walk down the aisle in front of hundreds of kids, drop to my knees and worship with them.”